FNQ avocado growers forced to dump their produce as supply outstrips demand

Zoe Thomas
By Zoe Thomas
Updated May 11 2022 - 3:15am, first published 3:00am
Images were shared on social media last weekend of avocados dumped at the Atherton GreenWaste facility. Photo: Jan De Lai.

Far North Queensland avocado growers are being forced to dump their produce as supply outstrips demand.

Images were shared on social media last weekend of avocados dumped at the Atherton GreenWaste facility.

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Tablelands to Tabletop founder Angela Nason said prices were at the cheapest she'd ever seen.

"We usually move several tonnes of my family's avocados here at T2T, but we have struggled to move just a few tonne," she said.

"This is what our Far North Queensland farmers have faced this year and other avocado farmers across Australia."

Tablelands to Tabletop is a wholesale delivery service who source 100 per cent local and in season, second grade and premium fruit and vegetables from local growers to sell direct to consumers.

Ms Nason said major supermarkets had filled their shelves with New Zealand imported avocados.

"This is absolutely not necessary with the amount our Aussie avocado farmers grow," she said.

Ms Nason did not know the farmer who dumped the produce, or the reason why, but said local growers faced similar situations.

"From conversations with my family who are local avocado growers, the response from their agents down south where they usually send their produce, has been that the big giants have imported avocados from New Zealand," she said.

"Of course, that is not the one and only reason why dumping happens, oversupply is another issue.

"Sometimes there can be just way too many avocados to sell."

Ms Nason said the classification of produce was another reason.

"They may or may not have been second grade avocados," she said.

"Most growers were just barely moving the premium, so their second grade produce might get a look at.

"The second grade will usually end up in cafes or restaurants as major supermarkets will generally only take the premium.

"As we all know, it's just the skin. What's underneath is exactly the same product."

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The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic also had flow on effects.

"Cafe and restaurant closures due to COVID-19 and being in lockdown had a domino effect on our farmers as well," Ms Nason said.

"Smashed avo on toast is one of the biggest sellers at cafes and restaurants, so if people aren't ordering the product because they're closed, of course that is going to have a knock on effect with the farmer.

"Not just avocados, but a range of fruit and vegetables."

Avocados Australia CEO John Tyas said a range of factors had impacted the industry. Photo: Jan De Lai.

Avocados Australia CEO John Tyas said the overall avocado industry took a hit during the pandemic.

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"A fair percentage of our avocados go into the food service sector and when restaurants and cafes were closing for periods of time during lockdown that really caused a lot of problems," he said.

"We also had issues with getting labour, as a lot of our labour is traditionally backpackers that come into the country and do a lot of the harvest work.

"So there has been a real shortage of labour. The fuel cost increases have also been challenging."

Mr Tyas said the Australian export market was also affected.

"The other problem we had was for our exporters who were trying to really grow our avocado export trade, which was really disrupted with covid," he said.

"We obviously didn't have a lot of flights for air freight and also the struggle to source shipping containers to export the product.

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"There have been a whole range of factors that have impacted the industry.

"Everyone is looking forward to coming out the other side and returning back to a bit more normality and stability."

Mr Tyas said the industry can expect high levels of production to come.

"There have been a lot of trees planted in the last five years and those trees are now starting to come into production," he said.

"We've known for a while that this fruit was coming and we've been trying to grow domestic consumption as fast as we can and develop new export markets, but that doesn't all happen overnight.

"This year has been really tough with very big volumes coming into the market and that is why you see very low prices at the retail shelf."

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However, Mr Tyas said growers had exported record volumes.

"Our previous highest production year was just before covid and we did about 4000 tonnes for the year," he said.

"The year just gone we did 10,000 tonnes, so there has been a significant increase in our exports.

"But we do have a lot more to do."

Ms Nason said she hoped to continue providing local insight into the industry.

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"Not everyone is in the farming industry and understands the situation or grower struggles," she said.

"It's not great for the farmer, but that post of the avocados did go viral and one good thing out of that post was the very clear message to support locals first.

"That is exactly what we are trying to achieve here - no wasted produce.

"We try to educate our community to support locals and if consumers do see anything from overseas on any major retailers shop shelves, just leave it right there.

"That is the number one way you can help the situation, never buy the overseas produce."

The bottom line Ms Nason said? Buy Australian grown avocados.

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"If you tell the supermarkets with your pockets, you're the one who makes the decision," she said.

"The consumer at the end of the day will decide what will be allowed and not allowed."

Zoe Thomas

Zoe Thomas

Journalist - North Queensland Register/Queensland Country Life

Northern based journalist at North Queensland Register and Queensland Country Life.

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